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UMaine astronomy center helps fight COVID-19

The Emera Astronomy Center at the University of Maine is joining the fight against COVID-19.

ORONO, Maine — Editor’s note: You are starting to hear the term ‘flattening the curve’ as a way to stem the tide of coronavirus cases. The above video explains what that means. 

The search is on for a treatment or cure for COVID-19.

A search so far and wide that computers usually used to peer into space are now being used to look more closely at the virus.  

Some of those computers, here in Maine at the Emera Astronomy Center on the Orono campus of the University of Maine. 

The center's computer clusters are sitting unused as students are off-campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"One of the things the planetarium wanted to do was find a way to contribute during this very challenging time," the center's director, Shawn Laastch said.

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The computers in the planetarium are often used for other types of science because they have the ability to look at things like proteins of a virus.

"So I figured if we could display proteins there must be a way we could use our computers to research them," Laastch said.

Now, all the data being collected by the computers in Orono are being sent to Berkeley, California where researchers are asking for help from colleagues from across the country. All with the goal of fighting COVID-19.

"It'll take a while for all of that to come to fruition but it's better than our computers sitting idle," Laatsch said.

He added, he's not a medical professional, but he's happy the planetarium's technology is able to contribute during this time.

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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